By Jeremy Balan
If the International girls basketball team was looking to fill the void of leadership left by standout guard Denia Ebersole, it got a good glimpse of who will occupy that role on Monday night.
But it’s not one player that will carry the Jaguars this season – it’s a pair.
Guards Natalie Kelly and Shayna Mehta combined for 41 points, including all of the Jaguars’ 14 points in the fourth quarter, in International’s 50-48 non-league home victory over Galileo.
“Denia was such a leader on and off the court, so we’re still trying to find our identity and it’s obvious in our style of play that we don’t really have a style right now,” said International head coach Charlene Murphy. “Natalie had a phenomenal game. She stepped up big.”
Kelly, a junior, finished with a game-high 21 points and Mehta, a year younger, added 20, but with the game tied at 48-48 in the final seconds, the sophomore had the ball on the perimeter. She drove to her left and Galileo guard Cassidy Chan slid into her path. Chan appeared to be in good defensive position when Mehta put up an out-of-control shot near the elbow of the key, but was called for a shooting foul with 0.8 seconds remaining.
Mehta calmly knocked down both free throws and Galileo’s final hurl at the buzzer didn’t come anywhere near the rim.
“It was a tough call against Cassidy,” said Galileo head coach Don Papa. “[Mehta] made a good move and got bumped. It could have been called before the shot, then it was [a shooting foul] because she threw the ball up, but it shouldn’t have come down to that.”
The Lions (1-1) appeared to be the better team in the final three quarters, but could not overcome a rough first frame. After Galileo led 5-4 early in the first, International (2-0) went on a 14-0 run and took a 18-5 lead into the second. Galileo committed eight turnovers in the first quarter, with five coming on steals by Mehta.
But Galileo battled back behind a team-high 17 points from junior guard Sarah Lim and forced four ties in the final 10 minutes of game time, but never got the lead back.
The final tie came after a leaning jump shot in the lane by Lim with 29 second remaining, setting up International’s final possession and Mehta’s last-second free throws.
“I’m proud of them – I’m very proud,” Papa said of the comeback. “It was a great effort. We had a big hole to dig out of. I thought we were going to get blown out.”
Galileo even outrebounded the much-larger Jaguars (although Mehta finished with a game-high nine rebounds) despite being outsized at nearly every position, but Mehta and Kelly kept lighting up the scoreboard.
“We didn’t control the boards like we should have,” Murphy said. “They played with intensity the entire game and they were relentless. We got lucky tonight . . . The game could have went either way, but at the end, the ball was in our possession.”
Natalie Kelly – 21
Shayna Mehta – 20
Danielle Palmer – 3
Three players tied with 2 points
Sarah Lim – 17
Karen Wong – 10
Kim Fung – 9
Cassidy Chan – 8
Two players tied with 2 points